Write Every Day

One of the pieces of advice that writers often give is to write every day. I gave that very piece of advice only a week or two ago and the response was a sort of nod that said, yeah, heard that one before, what else have you got? Actually, the context was more like this–I was asked how to keep a story going and keep it fresh in my head and keep plugging away at it, and so I said, ‘write every day.’ And now I want to talk about why.

A novel is like a river. To keep the words flowing, I have to be in it over my head. I have to be swept away so that all I can think about is the river. Nothing else matters. When I am not writing, I’m not in the river. I may be walking its edges, maybe even danging my feet in, but unless I’m writing, I’m not in the river.

Every day, I have to return to the river and leap in. But the river doesn’t necessarily want me there. It pushes me away–sort of like oppositional magnetic fields. If I write every day, then I usually can force my way back in pretty easily, and the next thing I know, I’m riding the rapids.

But.

If I don’t write every day, if I skip even one, I find that when I leap into the river, I end up bouncing off ice twenty feet thick. I can’t get back into the story. I have to start chipping a hole in the ice and digging down until I reach the flow again. That could take hours, or a day, or a week, or longer. I can’t afford that kind of time. So I have to write every day so that I can get back into the river. Hence the best advice I have is . . . write every day.

Does this make sense to anybody else out there or am I completely nuts?

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  1. 1. JPR

    Oh, I completely agree. For me, the act of “digging down until I reach the flow” feels like a new direction. If I wait too long I need to re-write the most recent parts of a story so that I can see where the action is going. As my life continues to flow the story changes direction. It may not happen if I skip one day, but I know what you mean.

  2. 2. Kate Elliott

    You’re completely nuts.

    So, you can join the rest of us who are crazy in exactly the same way. I quite agree; I do take a break on the weekends, but I have to struggle on Mondays to get back into the flow.

  3. 3. John Lenahan

    At 80,000 words I took a week off and the river has became a torrent– now I’m afraid to jump back in. The river analogy is a good one.

    John L

  4. 4. Mindy Klasky

    I like the river analogy too, but the words that really spoke to me in what you wrote are “sort of like oppositional magnetic fields.” I often question the strange tension that pushes me away from doing what I love – the sudden obsessions I develop with doing laundry, going grocery shopping etc. Great post!

  5. 5. Karen Wester Newton

    I have heard agents say they don’t want their clients to blog because it can “kill the itch to write.” I don’t find that happens, though. Writing a blog is nothing like writing a story.

    It’s a good itch! Scratch it!

  6. 6. S.C. Butler

    I like the river analogy. Much better than the on I use, which is baseball, because baseball doesn’t freeze. But just as baseball is a game you play every day, striking out sometimes and homering at others, you have to write every day and take the good with the bad. You can always go back and rewrite the bad.

  7. 7. Cameron Lowe

    It’s something you and I have talked about before, and I now completely agree 100%. If I walk away from a story for even just one day, it not only makes it hard to pick up the thread, but it also makes it easier to skip the writing for a second. And a third. And so on, until I have to come back to the writing with a chainsaw just to get through the thick haze.

  8. 8. green_knight

    The problem with advice like this is that it’s right *for you*. For others, forcing themselves to write when the words just aren’t there will kill the story, and lead, at least, to a heap of words that just aren’t doing their job and need to be deleted, only now it’s more difficult to find what they should have written instead…

    I write most days, because I *want* to write. I don’t have to force myelf to write, I have to force myself to step away from my writing and do other things, like earn money or eat or sleep. For many years I was a burst writer; I _have_ somewhat trained myself out of that, but I still don’t think that this is advice that one should give new writers. *Try* to write every day, yes. Make time for your writing, definitely. Think about your book even when you can’t see what the next scene ought to be. But ‘write every day’? No.

  9. 9. Marie Brennan

    Yup. That’s one of my two reasons for why, when noveling, I have to write every day; the other is that given how long novels are, if I don’t write every day, I’ll never get the bloody thing finished.

  10. 10. Diana Pharaoh Francis

    JPR: Oh, yes, that happens too. The river isn’t where I left it or it went to a different state altogether!

    Kate: It’s good to be nuts with such quality company :)

    John: Ah, yes. Fear of the river. I’ve got a bit of that right now.

    Mindy: The fear is that the oppositional magnetic push gets too strong to push through. Or maybe that I’ll be too lazy to overcome it.

    Karen: I have been known to distract myself and avoid writing by blogging. But then, I’ve been known to avoid writing by doing practically anything, and at least blogging at my computer . . .

  11. 11. Diana Pharaoh Francis

    Sam: Frozen river thing comes from living in the great white north for too long. If I could work in a moose, an antelope and an elk, I’ probably would. I’m a dork.

    Cam: That’s all too true for me too. It’s a slipper slope.

    Green Knight: Very true. But then, advice is always just that, never a rule. It’s only when I’m deep in the current of my river that I have to force myself to step away. So I envy you that.

    Marie: Exactly. And I’ll lose where I put the damned river too.

  12. 12. Alma Alexander

    Glub.

    No, I don’t necessarily *write every day*, at least not necessarily the same story – but I’ve seen your river, and I understand the ice.

    But with me, occassionally, I run ahead of myself and find myself deep into the water and so furiously focused that I don’t realise that the ice is thickening *above my head* and then when I try to come up for air I occasionally bang my head and it hurtses, preciouss, yes it hurtses. So every so often I stop at a bridge and just LOOK at the damned river for a moment while I catch my breath and only then do I dive back in…. and although I sometimes have to force myself to get back in (dammit, the river is ICED – this water is COLD…) I’ve never had real trouble with doing just that in the end. I am an amphibious creature who couldn’t survive for long outside of that river, anyway…

  13. 13. Jessica De Milo

    I identify with this *so* much. The other thing I find is that if you’re out of the river too long, you have to swim a long time before your muscle memory starts to kick in. Again, lots of wasted time involved in that.

    Also, I think the idea of forcing words isn’t a bad one. I’m of the school of thought which says ‘writing is in the revision.’ From that stand-point, it doesn’t matter if I have to delete stuff afterwards. I’m going to have to do that anyway. And I generally find that the time I spend deleting stuff that doesn’t work is far less than the time I waste trying to get it all perfect the first draft – or waiting until I *want* to write.

    I always *want* to write in a vague, niggling sort of way. But often, that wanting isn’t enough to motivate me to stay at my computer, type words and sentences, and keep typing them until there’s a story on the page. I have to choose to do that. And choosing is much, much easier if I do so every day.

  14. 14. jere7my

    Hey, nifty — I’ve used a very similar river-ice analogy:

    “Writing is like this: I approach a frozen lake, and step out onto the ice. Walking around aimlessly, I know I need to break through the ice and dive into the water, but it looks so cold and dark and frightening that I can’t steel myself to do it. Sometimes I hang back for ten minutes or fifteen or half an hour—sometimes for an entire night, thinking all along ‘I’ll dive in in just a moment’ until I’m thinking ‘Well, there’s no point diving in now, I’d just have to get right back out.’ The longer I wait, the more unwelcoming the water looks.

    “Once I finally gather my nerve and dive in, and the shock has worn off, I discover the water is actually quite warm, and my muscles enjoy being stretched, and there are interesting fish and weeds and crustaceans here and there. I lose track of time, swimming about, and when I come out I’m refreshed and pleased.

    “But I know I’ll be walking on the ice again next time, making minute adjustments to the footers or re-re-checking LiveJournal or changing a word or two before hitting command-Z, and it’ll be just as difficult to dive into the water as it was the last time. I wonder if that ice will ever disappear, or whether my goal should simply be to remember more readily how nice that water feels.”

    http://jere7my.livejournal.com/235714.html

    I didn’t know at the time that the ice gets thicker the longer you wait between writing; at the time, I kept hitting the ice, getting discouraged, and trying again after a few days, by which time the ice was off-puttingly thick again. Writing every night limits the ice to a thin glaze (most of the time).

    There’s a sort of flywheel in the brain, and writing spins it up. When it’s really going, everything you encounter looks like source material; ideas spark from every cloud formation or rotting log or overheard conversation. But it spins down if you’re not writing, and the clouds just look like clouds again.

    That’s how it is for me, anyway.

  15. 15. Diana Pharaoh Francis

    Alma: That so rarely happens to me, I think I might be envious. Is that odd?

    Jessica: Yes. Muscle-memory matters. It really does, at least to me.

    Jere7my: I hadn’t thought about the thickening, but I think you’re absolutely right.

  16. 16. Ken Preston

    You know, I would love to write every day, I really would. But real life just keeps getting in the way!
    Help. What can I do?

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Author Information

Diana Pharaoh Francis

Diana Pharaoh Francis has written the fantasy novel trilogy that includes Path of Fate, Path of Honor and Path of Blood. Path of Fate was nominated for the Mary Roberts Rinehart Award. Recently released was The Turning Tide, third in her Crosspointe Chronicles series (look also for The Cipher and The Black Ship). In October 2009, look for Bitter Night, a contemporary fantasy. Diana teaches in the English Department at the University of Montana Western, and is an avid lover of all things chocolate. Visit site.

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